Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
In Memoriam (VII)
by Alfred Tennyson
Dark house, by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,
A hand that can be clasp’d no more—
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.
He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.
“In Memoriam (VII)” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Public Domain. (buy now)
It was today in 1965, that President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. It’s one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation ever passed in this country. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in 1870, prohibited states from denying male citizens the right to vote “based on race, color or previous condition of servitude.” But black voters were still turned away at the polls, told that they were in the wrong place, or that they had missed the election. Some officials insisted on literacy tests, or made would-be voters recite the Constitution.
Many states failed to enforce the Voting Rights Act, and they still do, but for the first time African-Americans had a legal basis for challenging the prohibitions.
75 years ago today, in 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The American B-29 bomber Enola Gay released the bomb, which was nicknamed “Little Boy,” at 8:16 in the morning, local time. Sixty-two thousand buildings were destroyed by the blast, which was equivalent to more than 12,000 tons of TNT. Eighty thousand people were killed on impact, and 35,000 died over the next week of their injuries or radiation poisoning. Sixty thousand more died over the next year. The bomb exploded over a hospital, and 90 percent of the city’s doctors were killed in the blast. It was the beginning of the end of World War II; Germany had already surrendered and Japan would follow after the U.S. dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki three days later.
A year later, The New Yorker devoted an entire issue to the publication of an article by John Hersey. The article, called simply “Hiroshima,” followed the lives of six survivors of the blast. The magazine’s founder and editor Harold Ross wrote to E.B. White: “Hersey has written thirty thousand words on the bombing of Hiroshima […] one hell of a story, and we are wondering what to do about it […] [William Shawn, managing editor] wants to wake people up, and says we are the people with a chance to do it, and probably the only people that will do it, if it is done.”
“Hiroshima” begins: “At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6th, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department at the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk.”
This year, the annual remembrance ceremony will be much smaller than usual due to COVID-19. The ceremony will be broadcast for people to watch on TV at home.
Today is the birthday of Sir Alexander Fleming, the bacteriologist who discovered the antibacterial properties of penicillin. He was born in Lochfield, Scotland, in 1881. He came into his lab one morning in 1928 to discover he’d left the lid off of a petri dish containing a Staphylococcus culture. The culture had become contaminated by a blue-green mold, and Fleming noted that right around the moldy spots, the bacteria were no longer growing. He isolated the mold and determined it was Penicillium notatum. His first thought was that it would be useful as a surface disinfectant, and he later proved that it was effective against bacterial influenza. He later said, “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.”
It’s the birthday of Victorian poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (books by this author), born in Lincolnshire, England (1809). Tennyson showed early promise as a poet, writing a 6,000-line epic when he was only 12 and publishing a book of poetry with his brother when he was only 17. After being forced to leave Cambridge because of his father’s death, and after receiving some particularly negative reviews, and after the death of his best friend, Tennyson fell into a period of depression. “I suffered what seemed to me to shatter all my life so that I desired to die rather than to live,” he said of that time, during which he refused to publish anything for ten years. When he finally put out his next book, titled simply Poems, it established his career immediately and brilliantly. He went on to succeed William Wordsworth as Britain’s poet laureate, and Queen Victoria conferred on him the title of baron, arguably making him the first poet ever to sit in the House of Lords based solely on the merit of his verse. In fact, his fame at the time was probably only eclipsed by that of the prime minister and the queen herself.
On this day in 1786, Scotland’s beloved poet and bard Robert Burns (books by this author), best remembered for romantic classics like “Auld Lang Syne” and “A Red, Red Rose,” stood before his church a third and final time as public penance for “antenuptial fornication” with Jean Armour.
Pregnant with fraternal twins she would name after herself and Robert, Armour had been hustled off to stay with relatives in another town when her parents learned of her condition earlier that spring. Her father, hoping there was still time to snag a suitor with better prospects than the penniless Burns, destroyed a document the poet had given Armour promising marriage. But it was all for naught when the local church caught wind of the scandal. Armour officially acknowledged her pregnancy and named Burns as the father.
Burns declared all this a “desertion” on her part, and stood before the church the required three times to receive a certificate declaring him a single man. Letters that Burns sent to friends that summer suggested he’d already found a new paramour and may have impregnated her, too. In any case, there was at least one other illegitimate child to provide for: “Dear bought Bess,” as Burns called her, a daughter born to a servant girl shortly before he’d taken up with Jean Armour. When the publication of his first book seemed likely, Burns, fearing the Armours would make a claim on his future earnings, turned his estate over to his brother to ensure Bess would be taken care of.
Burns left for Edinburgh and found success — with both poetry and women — in the months that followed the birth of the twins. He returned to town less than a year from the day he’d been declared a single man, and Jean Armour’s parents, impressed by his new wealth, received him with open arms. So did their daughter Jean, and she became pregnant with a second set of twins.
Eventually — despite claims that he would never again extend her the offer, despite calling her “ungrateful” and “foolish,” despite comparing her to a “farthing taper” next to the “meridian sun” of another woman he was busy wooing — Burns married Jean Armour. She bore his philandering with patience and apparent good cheer, just as she continued to bear him children — the ninth was born on the day of Robert Burns’ funeral in 1796. “Our Robbie should have had twa [two] wives,” she is said to have exclaimed upon taking in one of his illegitimate daughters to raise.
For all his affairs, Burns was also dealt with rather leniently by the church, which had the custom of making men in his circumstances sit on a “creepie-chair,” or a low stool reserved for public humiliation. When Burns reported for penance on this day 234 years ago, he was allowed to stand in his usual pew.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®